Behind: “Uprisings at Cap d’Antibes”

There’s nothing like a good, old-school revolution to get a story going. Great or small, a lightning coup or decades in the making, needed change or epic tragedy. Revolution, for better or worse, is essentially human.

The idea of a revolution wriggled into my brain some time back. In my fiction usually a form of natural order wins out, often crushing a too-bold POV. Later I began wondering about the true insurgent. Sometimes the natural order wins out only because good hearts fight for it.

One idea grabbed me. Not just any revolution but the Revolution. Socialism turned to its extreme. Far too big a canvas for short fiction, unless a very personal uprising set against a revolutionary backdrop. And so, at a fictional tennis academy in the glimmering Cote d’Azur, a revolution begins.

I’m proud to announce my unabashed romp “Uprisings at Cap d’Antibes” is included with other terrific writing in Lowestoft Chronicle #17. It’s my second contribution to Lowestoft, after last year’s “La Upsell.” If you’re not reading Lowestoft, you should, but only if if you love to laugh through far-flung (mis)adventures. Consistently a wonderful read.

Back to the revolution. “Uprisings” goes back to 2011 brainstorming, insurgents overthrowing a neighborhood association. Say it was a gated community, and the association has become bloated and under the thumb of a busybody who frets over nits like shrub height. I even wrote a few thousand words of something called “May Day.” The main character came, a proto-Dasha freaked out over the revolution’s growing interest in her tennis star daughter when the new boss proved worse than the old boss. The story itself never took off,  a too-easy premise and riddled with darlings and design flaws. Point is, the kernel stuck, filed under Good Try.

Last year the idea came back in fits and starts. The opening scene to “May Day” was good, so much so that it bothered me not knowing how things played out for Dasha. The “A Ha!” finally came with seeing the revolution didn’t have to occur in a neighborhood. It could happen somewhere out of Dasha’s element or somewhere she wanted anything but instability. A place. A tennis academy. In France. The Riviera. Feliks the uber-wealthy ex-pro wouldn’t pick the gloomy north to set up shop. Make it Antibes, as swank as it gets, minutes from Cannes.

So. A revolution. Sergei the son and true believer ousts dad Feliks the communist icon turned capitalist mogul. But the story is Dasha’s revolution. Unlike the Karperovs, gentle mom Dasha wants a closer relationship with daughter Hailey (parallelism alert!). She’s a happy second fiddle to her banker hubbie (up parallelism alert level to Orange!) With some massaging, the story fell into line: Dasha must rise up (Parallelism alert code red!). Against Sergei, who wants to claim Hailey as his poster child. Against her jackass husband, who wants tennis stardom for Hailey at any price. Against her meek self, who thought she wanted to breeze through life as a socialite and in the reflected glory of a phenom daughter.

I hope readers take to Dasha. She was fun to write, somebody you’d welcome at a dinner party table. Loving, well-intentioned, wry, but quick to shelther inside her privileged lifestyle. Writing Feliks was a hoot. A man of faded but not lost capability, from whom no combination of words seemed over-the-top. And Hailey is way, way up there among characters I’m blessed to have found me. Machine-focused, except for when she glances needfully at mom in the bleachers. From the mouth of this predatory child could come one-liners and an insensitivity to the contradictions and cruelties around her. She is the monster Tom and Dasha have made. Dasha and Hailey’s mother-daughter moment–after all that it took them to get there–sticks with me as the story’s best moment, maybe poignant in its way. The scene surprised me writing it.

Not to instigate, but I hope folks check out Dasha and her uprising.

Behind the Short Story: “Whorling”

Albert Einstein–you know, he of the supercomputer brain–once dished out this observation on the universe:

“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”

Well said, but only half said. Sure, gravity doesn’t make people weak-kneed in love, but some force does, internal or external. Einstein didn’t name the cause because he didn’t know it. No one does. Love, a mystery.

Now that is an idea I could get behind.

And gratefully so could The Oddville Press. I’m proud they’ve included my short story “Whorling” in their grand relaunch.

I wanted to write a love story. A twist on a love story. And I knew just the character to fall in love. I first met Marie back in 2010, as a bit player in the Cathaver (now Cathcart) manuscript. Forensic tech, young and vibrant, inexplicably attracted to the much older Colin. She just clicked, her scenes full of life.

And I needed to write her out.

She was so secondary to the throughline, and so random, that despite working so well on the page, she didn’t serve the story. Out she went, but no worries. A great character in need of a story is a fine problem to have. In she comes to “Whorling,” and at center stage.

Marie 2.0 keeps her strength and spirit. But she is tired, off her center. She hasn’t developed the worldliness her job demands. The inner Marie is still a Kilkenny lass, as up for a Smithwick’s or two as she is scrambling off on classified missions. She needs to share, but her whole life revolves around secrets. Enter Lyon and the mild-mannered improbably spy Colin, the soul of poise and experience. And for the humorous premise, a man boasting the impossible: ten perfect whorl fingerprints. Whorls matching prints lifted from the murder weapon.

Mystery elements abound–forensics, crime scenes, suspects–but, like Einstein, I can’t solve the mystery of love. So I made no attempt to solve the crime. Marie could only explore the clues: the sudden sweep off her feet, her racing thoughts and jealousy, her faith in Colin despite conflicting and circumstantial evidence. Mystery-ish, but about larger mysteries.

I hope folks enjoy Marie for Marie, the Kilkenny lass caught in a force stronger than gravity.

Shout-outs:

  • Burt Bacharach. You read that correctly. Aretha Franklin, too. Writing this, I would listen to her version of Burt’s “This Girl’s in Love With You.” Slow and soulful, but taking on urgency as it builds into almost head-over-heels dreaminess. Exactly how Marie needed to come off.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Hopefully I didn’t trash the stately pleasure dome.
  • Logan and the editors at Oddville. Thanks for challenging the story. Excellent editing.
  • NWMG Mystery Group. Thanks for the early feedback that set Marie on her path. Every month I get a killer chicken parm and your great suggestions.

Caveats:

  • I strived to get the forensics right. Fingerprint results do come back within minutes, but never as an “A Ha!” perfect match. DNA results take much longer, even for a fictionalized super-secret outfit with major resources. And DNA samples are fragile, not something for  mobile unit testing. Research notwithstanding, someone more expert in forensics could likely find errors in how I’ve portrayed the work. To which I’d say: “Thanks. How did you enjoy the story?”
  • Oddville included a not-for-children warning in the preface. Nothing too edgy, but I’ll repeat that here.

Behind: “The Carcassonne Dream”

It is winter. Christmas Eve 2011, and Writer Guy rides the train to Arles. Second class. The South of France trundles by outside, salt flats and olive trees, the mountainside and harbor towns of the Mediterranean coast. I sip my Coca-Cola Lite and return to my laptop.

For in France the writing flows, as fast as the sweeping wind is vicious. I plan a collection, short stories set in different French locales, and the first idea has begun to spill out.

It is about a guy in Provence. On a train. In winter.

Such is my premise. Six words nearly bring the Coca-Cola Lite out my nose: “France Is Continue reading Behind: “The Carcassonne Dream”

Behind: “La Upsell”

Intrepid Travelers Lowestoft coverHere, in honor of its recent republication, is a “Behind The Short Story” I wrote for “La Upsell.”

The short story is its own literary animal, a wholeness experienced in few words and on small bones. Some writers get a sunbeam and angel choir moment of inspiration. Others grit it out, go find the story. I’m somewhere in between those extremes.

For “La Upsell,” I was deep in a story groove, having worked up momentum on several other shorts. A rare place for me, to be fully inspired. It’s a hell of a feeling.

Inspiration went something like this: Continue reading Behind: “La Upsell”